Neatly spanning the borders of Anderson and Abbeville Counties, you will find the unique town of Honea Path, South Carolina, that has been in existence since the 18th Century.
Or is it Honey Path? The town charter, granted by the state in 1855, gives the spelling of the name as Honey Path. It is not clear whether this is a mistake in the charter or if the intended name really was Honey Path. It is clear from family records that the local folk knew the town as Honea Path well before the Civil War.
Many legends exist regarding the name of the town and its various spellings. Some surround an Indian Chief named Honea who spent time in the area. Others believe that the name of a local post master and/or depot agent was Honea and thus gave his name to the town. One of the most colorful legends reports that there was a "big path" used by the Indians in their travels through the upstate which passed through the area. The Indian word for path sounded much like the word Honea. Because this was a "big path" the Indians repeated the word twice to enforce the importance of the path. White settlers kept the Indian word for path and the English word for path. They called the area Honea Path.
One of the favorite legends regarding the name of the town is that there were a lot of bee trees found along the "big path" used by the Indians. Because of this the settlers called the path, "honey path." On a plat of land purchased by David Greer in 1794 one can clearly see a path laid out across the property. The path is identified as Honey Path. Colton's map of South Carolina published in 1855 shows the name of the town as Honey Path.
Regardless of which legend you choose, at the time of the Centennial celebration in 1955, the name of Honea Path was officially adopted in the state records. The common name for the town was at last legally the name of the town.
The first settlers came to the Honea Path area in the late 18th century. The first named settler to purchase land in the area was David Greer. By 1810 the area had built its first school. This was the first of many schools in this area. It is believed that a town began to flourish and that as early as 1825 several general stores existed. With the arrival of the railroad in the 1850's, the town's future was secured. At one time several hotels were established to take care of the people who came to conduct business or to visit the area.
In the early 1900's several of the local businessmen determined that it would make more sense to mill the cotton being grown in the area before attempting to ship it to market. Chiquola Mill was organized in April of 1902.
The mill was four stories high and contained 83,200 square feet. Operation began in 1903. In an early photograph of the mill, one can see a patch of cotton actually growing immediately outside the front door of the building. While the ownership of the mill changed several times over the years, it had been in consistent operation until closing in 2003.
The events of September 1934 at Honea Path were at the epicenter of a long-developing storm of worker protest in the South's leading industry, textiles. Honea Path workers joined in the General Textile Strike, one of the largest in American history, a protest that was initiated and sustained by southern mill workers. The strike was one of a series of worker protests in 1934 that occurred in every region of the United States and that helped reshape American attitudes and government policy about the work place in critically important ways.
Within a year of these events, the federal government passed the landmark National Labor Relations Act, three years later, The Fair Labor Standards Act (maximum hours, minimum wages, and a ban on child labor). As a result, workers received a larger place in American life and politics, a larger place that they had long since earned and more equitable treatment in their work. Similar concerns for a more just workplace were later catalysts for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, more recently, for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The events of September 1934, in Honea Path, give us a unique opportunity to remember the tragic, and the courageous, and to recognize the essential role of textile workers and the textile industry in the reshaping and enhancing of the century that has now come to an end.
A Carnegie Library was built in the town in 1908. Honea Path has the distinction of being the smallest town in South Carolina and one of the smallest in the United States to construct a Carnegie Library. This historic building is still in use as a branch of the Anderson County Library. It has recently been expanded but the expansion carefully preserved the distinctive face of the library. In 1958 the name of the library was changed to the Jennie Erwin Library of Honea Path. She served as one of the original trustees and donated $1000 toward the purchase of the first books for the library. Although there were lean years when the library reported "no new books were purchased this year," the library has been available for more than 90 years to serve the residents.